For an example of a terrible slideshow-type online "article," check out this one on answers.com

For an example of a terrible slideshow-type online “article” check out this one on answers.com

Like many of you, I read constantly with most of that being online. I save numerous article links daily for later reading and then enjoy sitting back in the evening in my favorite recliner browsing what I’ve bookmarked. That’s how I learn the best and it’s always been a joy. However, far too many of those online articles lately – at least of the list variety – have taken an annoying turn to the point where I am likely to click away and forget about pursuing the content once I see the format.

I’m talking about online articles that are set up in a slideshow format that require you to click through to see each tiny little additional paragraph or photo, frequently burdening the reader with multiple clicks, scrolling and other annoyances over and over again to make it through the content which could have and should have all been put on a single page.

Here’s what should happen when I see a link to an article of interest:

  1. I click on the link to the article.
  2. The article appears in its entirety on one page.

Instead, for some warped reasons filled with a total lack of respect for the user’s experience, here is what I get far more often these days, especially if the article is something like “The Top 10…” or “Places To Go for…” or “Amazing Photos of…” etc.

  1. I click on the link to the article.
  2. A page takes forever to load due to ads or even videos in a sidebar loading and automatically playing (a whole separate practice worthy of 39 lashes).
  3. I have to scroll down to see some frame with a photo or text in it because junky banner ads fill the top of the screen.
  4. I have to scroll down more to find a “Next” button.
  5. I click the Next button.
  6. The button only adds caption info to the existing photo which I have to scroll back up to see.
  7. I scroll back down to the Next button again (or to track down some random unwanted sidebar video/audio playing to stop it).
  8. I click the Next button.
  9. Another page takes a long time to load.
  10. Repeat steps 3-9 for every single photo or text block in the so-called article.

Of course, like most Web users, I’ll abandon such nonsense long before I get to the end of the desired content. It just isn’t worth my time or growing frustration with each unnecessary click or requirement to scroll.

If you’d like an example of this wretched type of page in action, check out the article called “Dogs Who Have No Clue How Big They Are.” As a big dog lover, I couldn’t resist the link when it showed up in my Facebook feed. My takeaway from the pain of trying to get through all the photos was “Forget you, Answers.com. I will not follow links to your site any more.”

Granted, this is a first-world problem and it may sound incredibly petty to rant about having to click and scroll unnecessarily to view content on a Web page when most people on earth have far more serious things to ponder and deal with. But if you’re building content for online consumption, you must, must, must be cognizant of the user experience! It’s your job, for crying out loud. It’s what you do. You either need to do it well or not do it at all. Is that too much to ask? I don’t think so.

Just give me the content I am coming for in the most efficient, user-friendly manner possible. That’s it! Do that and I will appreciate you, enjoy your site, most likely come back to it and share its contents with others to enjoy. Don’t force me into your bad experience because you think it’s cool or the latest thing or you’re trying to show off your incredibly mediocre (if not horrid) design skills. Just give me the content and let me be on my way. The one exception – Slideshare.net. They know how to do it well and have been doing so for years. Them I trust – others, forget it.

Web page designers and content creators, know this: If you place obstacles between me and the content I’m coming for, I’m going to leave before consuming your content and I’m going to make a note not to trust your links to content in the future. (This also applies to forcing me to register to download a white paper because I know it just means you’re gong to spam me thereafter. It also includes splitting up a text-based article into numerous “pages” instead of putting it all on one page. If you’re afraid of how long your text-based article is, then write less.) Don’t fall victim to any craze in Web design without first and foremost considering the user experience.

Fellow readers and consumers of content, if you share my disdain for this type of content display which only wastes your valuable time, then let those responsible for such pages know how you feel. Demand a user-friendly, efficient experience and do not patronize those sites which disrespect you and your time so much as to force you into such a poor experience.

LentIf any of you want to give up something for Lent, by all means go ahead and do so. I won’t think less or more of you for observing the practice. And I highly suspect few if any of you reading this really care whether I give up anything for Lent or not. That’s fine, too. Still, I’m going to explain why I won’t be doing anything different for the 40-day period know as Lent.

First, for those unfamiliar with the tradition, Lent is the period in the Christian liturgical calendar which commemorates Jesus’ 40-day period in the wilderness when he fasted and was tempted by Satan. Some church traditions (although not all and usually not churches in my Southern Baptist tradition) celebrate Lent by having individuals give up something or spend more time in prayer and fasting or performing good works for others in ways not normally a part of the person’s daily life. What is sacrificed for Lent runs the gamut if my Facebook news feed is any indication – caffeine, meat, chocolate, coffee, soft drinks, even Facebook or the Internet. Some churches have Ash Wednesday services to begin the observance, and participants in those services may leave with a cross of ashes on their foreheads.

I have nothing against liturgical calendars or centuries-old traditions. I value fasting (but rarely do it) and prayer (which I do throughout every day) and doing good works for the benefit of others (which I hope I do often, though probably not often enough). I don’t care, however, for the thought of walking around with a cross of ashes on my forehead because it seems like a giant “look at me” sign that would make me too self-conscious, but if others choose to do so and their motives are pure, then more power to them.

I haven’t felt the need to sacrifice anything for this 40-day Lenten period. Why? A few thoughts come to mind:

  • First, if giving up “X” brings you closer to God for 40 days, then you probably ought to give it up permanently. If caffeine or chocolate or Facebook or anything else seems to come between you and God the other 325 days of the year, then why would you not give it up permanently instead of just for 40 days? The Christian life of sanctification – growing in holiness – is one of perpetual growth this side of heaven, and doing something for such a short term that presumably helps your walk with God seems antithetical to a desire for continuous growth. “Well, God, I’m going to draw close to you for these 40 days, but after that you’ll just have to wait until Ash Wednesday next year to get my serious attention.” Doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it? And if you believe as I do that we don’t impress or earn favor with God by mere acts of temporary sacrifice, then a change in behavior for only 40 days doesn’t have much lasting effect personally or eternally.
  • Second, I don’t need to re-live an annual liturgical calendar to experience my faith. Christianity at its heart is a personal relationship with and commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. It is a relationship that defines who one is every moment of his/her life. It is the basis for how I see and interpret and respond to the world around me. It is who I am at the core of my very being even though I fail to live up to the example of my Lord (see previous point on sanctification). If my faith was about religion – external things I do related to what I believe – then observing Lent would make more sense (maybe), but if my faith is about a relationship with the living Lord, then it’s primarily about the heart and an ongoing surrender to the lordship of Christ which plays out in a changed life. That is of far greater significance than can ever be expressed by doing without something I enjoy for 40 days, and it is something that needs to happen every day of the year.
  • Lastly, I know how the story ends. I know that Jesus overcame Satan’s temptations in the wilderness. I know He was crucified, dead and buried. I know He was raised from the dead and reigns forever and will come again one day to bring judgment to all the earth and to usher in His eternal kingdom. And I know I’m one of His children who will be with Him in that kingdom. I don’t need to mourn because He has saved me. I don’t need to temporarily sacrifice because the ultimate sacrifice has already been made by Him on my behalf. I choose not to re-live the part of history or church calendars pretending the end is unknown because His word declares His victory as accomplished and available to be shared by all who repent of their sins and surrender their lives to Him. I can rejoice and enjoy all that He provides in this life because, as one song says, “We win, we win, hallelujah we win; I’ve looked at the back of The Book and we win!”

Yes, there are times when I hide away for a few days in a quiet place for extended times of prayer, study and reflection. Yes, I am all for living life simply as evidenced by one of my goals for 2015 to end the year with less than I started it with in terms of material possessions. Yes, I support the practice of fasting if one chooses to do so to spend more time in prayer and communing with God. But this Lenten season I’ll just continue the path that is for me an unending one of daily spending time in His word, in praying throughout the day as a way of life talking with the One who is closer than a brother to me, and in pursuit of a life of obedience and growth that won’t end this side of heaven – certainly not in 40 days.

The point of this post is not to criticize those who treat Lent differently than I do. You have my respect and support if it draws you closer to God. My point is to promote the idea of celebrating life in Christ and continually growing in relationship and obedience to Him regardless of the season. I choose to focus on the victory already won and the grace given through that victory.

May this be a meaningful Lenten season for you – not because you give up something, but because whether you give up something or not you draw closer to the Lord Jesus Christ who gave up everything on the cross so that you might experience eternal life in Him.

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A few other related articles:

 

ApologeticsStudyBibleI finished reading trough The Apologetics Study Bible earlier this week and want to write a bit about the experience. It has been my practice for nearly four decades to read through a different translation, version or edition of the Bible every 1-3 years. I haven’t kept track, but I’m guessing I’ve done it now somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 times since college. My preference is for study Bibles because of the wealth of notes and supplemental articles provided. There is value in exposing oneself to as many translations and commentaries as possible in a lifelong, systematic way, so this approach works for me. Of course, the thrust of any trek through the Word of God is to hear from the primary Author of the original scriptures and not the notes and commentary on it by others. Still, it doesn’t hurt to hear from both!

In January 2014 I started reading through The Apologetics Study Bible both because (1) it focused on defending the Christian faith with its supplemental reading, and (2) because I had never read completely the translation it uses – the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). It took me a few weeks longer to complete it than planned, spilling over into 2015, but I won’t tell anyone if you won’t. It was definitely a worthwhile endeavor.

Like most study Bibles, there are ample footnotes on nearly every page, worthwhile introductions to the books, helpful reference materials in the back, plus those articles and short inserts scattered throughout the text that address a host of questions, issues, interpretations, and ways in which some religions try to twist the meanings of certain passages to stray from historic, biblical teaching. I found these brief “Twisted Scripture” segments to be among the most helpful features because they specify how particular groups misinterpret certain passages, and they are located right by the verses in question, easily standing out visually on the page.

While I have certainly benefited from study Bibles that are largely the effort of a single person (e.g., The MacArthur Study Bible or The Evidence Bible), I generally prefer editions that contain the thoughts and writings of many contributors as is the case with The Apologetics Study Bible with its many dozens of contributors. Of course, that method lends itself to potential inconsistency in the type and quality of notes provided. This isn’t a major concern, though, as there were only one or two books where I found the notes to be very repetitious and, frankly, frustrating to read after a few chapters.

For example, after completing the Old Testament book of Numbers, I wrote the following note in it:

“The notes in Numbers are very frustrating to read. The writer correctly rejects the idea that it is a composite of various priestly, Yahwist, and Elohist sources. However, instead of addressing that point once in the introduction or in an article about it, he constantly references it in the notes. There is no value in filling notes repeatedly with “some think such and such, but I disagree.” Tell us more about what is true about the text – not what is not true about it.”

Fortunately, such objections were limited to no more than a couple of books, so the objections shouldn’t and wouldn’t keep me from heartily recommending the edition to anyone interested.

At just over 2000 pages, it isn’t an overwhelming size compared to some other study Bibles on the market, so it tends to be a quicker read than, for example, the ESV Study Bible at more than 2,700 pages which is what I read through over 2012-2013.

With this being my first time reading the Holman Christian Standard Bible, I found it an enjoyable, readable, understandable translation that seeks to be true to the earliest and most reliable manuscripts. Like any translation, it sounds a bit odd at times when the wording is very different than what I may have grown up memorizing or hearing frequently, but that is to be expected and is not at all a fault. I consider the HCSB a worthy translation for use, although I drift more toward the English Standard Version (ESV) and New American Standard Bible (NASB) as my go-to translations.

Overall, I can heartily recommend The Apologetics Study Bible as a valuable resource for helping the reader build up a strong, rational defense for the faith. After all, that is what Christian apologetics is all about. It is well worth the time to read every word of it and to keep it handy, especially for its plentiful articles and helpful resources in addition to the biblical text. It may not be the study Bible you choose to be your primary, permanent Bible to carry to church, but it deserves a place within arm’s reach as you explore the meaning of various texts.

What’s next for me? I’ll tackle The Reformation Study Bible the remainder of this year. About a year from now, I should be sharing with you about that experience.

What about you? What version/translation/edition of the Bible are you reading now? Which have you found most helpful?

Dont-Suck-the-Life-Out-of-LifeFor the last couple of years I’ve been very public with my annual personal goals, including progress reports along the way as to how successful (or not) I am in achieving them. I’m not going to run down item by item the goal list from last year. Suffice it to say that I met or exceeded some and didn’t achieve others. If you’re curious about what they were, you’ll find posts about them here, here, here, and here. Instead, I want to write today about the overall lesson learned from 2014 that relates significantly to the goal effort. Here it is:

Don’t be so goal oriented that you suck the life out of life.

My first time for setting a long list of personal goals related to body, mind and spirit was in 2013. It went really well, so it’s no surprise I did it again in 2014. But we weren’t many months into the year before I felt overwhelmed. All of the goals were in addition to my work and volunteer efforts, and it was simply exhausting to try to stay up with all of them. I needed more rest, more sleep, more down time not focused on a never-ending to-do list.

While I made a mid-year correction and lowered the bar on some goals, that still wasn’t enough to put me at ease. I still wasn’t getting enough sleep. I ended the last few months of the year choosing a couple of the goals most meaningful and worked on them while letting the others go. My body, mind and spirit needed the break. It was the right thing to do. I had put so much emphasis on a long, ambitious list of what I wanted to get done that I had succeeded in sucking the life out of life. Surely that wasn’t good for me or anyone else around me.

So I’m determined in 2015 to take a different approach to goals for the year. There will be no long list of goals for body, mind and spirit. I’ll still continue the personal behaviors that have by now become important regular habits (getting in 10,000 steps per day 3 days per week, reading through the Bible in a version or study edition different than one I’ve read before, and spending time weekly on 100 Bible memory verses). But the only other goals will be very simple – getting more sleep daily than I averaged in 2014 (trying for 7.5 instead of 6.5 hours nightly), finishing the books I intended to read last year but didn’t complete, and being more intentional about serving my church and others rather than setting self-focused goals.

I recall a sermon by my former Associate Pastor Kris Billiter from January 2014 when he suggested we set other-oriented goals rather than self-focused ones. That message stuck with me throughout 2014, so I’m taking it to heart. I want to be a better person – not just someone who does a lot of stuff. Drastically reducing self-focused goals and saying “yes” to opportunities to serve others while still reserving enough time for adequate rest will be my basic plan.

I’ve always been a task-oriented person. Plans and goals and checklists fit me well. That isn’t the case with all people. But there is a point where too many to-do items just suck the life out of life. I reached that point in 2014 and have no intention of doing so this year. In fact, I’ve already scheduled one day per week for vacation every week from January through March, plus a full week off in February for the heck of it. I’m writing this post on the first of those restful, stay-at-home days where I slept late, read, played with the dog, spent a couple hours at church helping with our youth program, and now am finishing a blog post.

2015 is off to a good start. You’re welcome to hold me accountable if you like. I hope your year is both productive and meaningful at a deeper, personal, more satisfying level than mere checklists can guarantee.

Don’t suck the life out of life. It’s too precious.

Brain<rant>

Buzzwords always abound in businesses. Each year sees new ones come and (if we are lucky) a few worn ones disappear. After all, Buzzword Bingo exists for a reason! Some of the most annoying to me are using verbs as nouns such as in “That’s a good ask.” Why not use the word “question” or “request” as the correct noun in that situation instead of misusing the word “ask”? Who knows how many years I’ve endured hearing people tell someone to “reach out” to someone at work when a simple “contact” will do the trick. You start “reaching out” to me at work and I’m calling HR on you!

So pardon me for a few paragraphs while I go on a somewhat controlled rant about a currently popular phrase that is so grossly overused and abused I feel I must take a stand. The term is “thought leader” or “thought leadership.”

The phrase isn’t new, of course, but it has become so commonly misused that the phrase is, to me, largely meaningless any more. Here are my issues with it and with how it is used:

1. Too many companies and individuals set a goal of becoming a thought leader in some field. They want to start blogging or publishing or public speaking or some combination of public activities with the explicit hope of being considered a thought leader. This seems completely backward to me. Their mistaken focus seems to be on the accolades and reputation they hope to earn because of their actions rather than the quality of the actions and benefit to others that comes as a result of their work. I’ve even heard the ridiculous discussion of whether or not the content for such “thought leadership” articles should be original or contracted out to an agency! What!? If you don’t have the ability to think your own thoughts enough to get them in writing, then you aren’t a thought leader even in your own company (maybe even in your own head), much less in any industry.

2. Any entity that refers to itself as a thought leader isn’t one. If I see “thought leader” in your Twitter or LinkedIn profile, I will not follow or connect with you. I do not care what you have to say because my first impression is that you are simply pompous and full of yourself. On the other hand, if it is others who are calling you a thought leader, then perhaps I’ll be impressed with their assessments and pay attention to what you say, but not if you are the one using it to describe yourself. Humility is a good thing. Learn it.

3. Companies cannot produce thought leaders en masse. For example, a colleague and I have been exploring employee advocacy software options over recent weeks. I can’t count how many times sales reps from the companies have tried to sell their products on the notion that we are helping employee advocates of our company become thought leaders through the use of it. Well, sorry again, but when the advocacy program largely depends on retweeting and reposting content we suggest with perhaps minor personal edits, that doesn’t make anyone a thought leader. Since when does retweeting others make anyone a thought leader? And since when did a single company have thousands of thought leaders as employees? Come on, people. Get real.

Here is my point: “Thought leader” is a title earned and bestowed by others as a result of unique, innovative, exemplary work over time. It is not a goal that anyone concerned with actually doing good work will waste time pursuing. It is never a term you should use for yourself.

Should you be so fortunate as to have others consider you a thought leader and refer to you that way, then accept their compliment with humility, be grateful that you have the opportunity to make a positive impact on others, and go on about the business of doing your very best work. History and others are far more likely to accurately describe you, your work, and its impact than you will yourself.

So go out there and do your best every single day. Only be concerned with that. Let others decide who they consider thought leaders to be. Don’t waste your time (or mine) associating the term with yourself. That’s for others to decide after you’ve earned it.

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